Over 360 elephants have been found dead across Botswana since the beginning of May, and conservationists have yet to figure out what is causing their deaths.
Botswana is home to more African elephants than any other country on the continent, and director of conservation at U.K.-based charity National Park Rescue Dr. Niall McCann told the BBC the way in which the elephants have been found dead is also alarming. Photos from the air show that the elephants looked to have died "falling flat on their faces."
"If you look at the carcasses, some of them have fallen straight on their face, indicating they died very quickly," McCann said. "Others are obviously dying more slowly, like the ones that are wandering around. So it’s very difficult to say what this toxin is." Onlookers near where some elephants have been found also noticed the animals walking in circles aimlessly, signaling some kind of neurological impairment prior to their deaths.
“This is a mass die-off on a level that hasn’t been seen in a very, very long time. Outside of drought, I don’t know of a die-off that has been this significant,” said McCann.
McCann went on to say he has never seen anything like this during his time studying wildlife and that "it's appalling—we need to know what the hell is going on." Nearby elephants also appeared to be weaker than usual, but the other wildlife in the area looks to be unaffected by whatever is killing the giant, peaceful mammals.
While this could be the cause of some sort of elephant-specific parasite, CNN noted, it is also unclear whether the causes of death for the elephants could pose a possible health risk to humans as well.